Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Defined by a cake

I’ve never understood why people get upset about ‘landmark’ birthdays – you know, 40, 50, 60 – but a couple of years back I had the first one of mine with a zero on the end that could have seemed significant, if only because, according to the Bible, I should now be dead. Yes, I’ve had my allotted three score years and ten (plus 18 months now, too). I celebrated it in Plymouth with my 3 sisters, 2 brothers (all younger than me) and our spouses. And we had a wonderful time. So much so that I was forced to replace my habitual mantra of ‘Hell is other people’  with (gulp) ‘Heaven is other people’. I am Darwinned (my version of ‘blessed’) with a great family – ‘celebrate’ seems to be the default mode for them and they really should take out a patent on the mechanics of having a good time.

There was wonderful food, excellent wine, amazingly creative presents, a specially written and performed song and, most of all, a cake. I say ‘most of all’ because my youngest sister, who made it, managed to crowd onto it objects and images which featured most of my main interests. It would be tedious to list them but, from the obvious ones, such as the crests of my school, university and the city where I’ve lived most of my life and my interest in horse racing and sailing, they ranged to a bicycle and a wee duck (because I ride a bike and confit de canard is probably my favourite meal).

Around the feet of the little, kilted, icing figure who sat carving wood (another hobby of mine) lay tiny wood shavings of icing. A golfer prepared to putt to a flag (in the 70th hole) beside which curly green icing formed the rough which he’d managed to avoid (for a change). Around three sides of the cake were the titles of all my plays and books. But the pièce de résistance lay underneath it all. The cake was propped up on five wee glasses acting as pillars and forming a sort of basement. I peered at it, saw tiny figures beside the pillars and was baffled. My sister said ‘Well, where is it?’ ‘Under the cake,’ I said. Then she patiently teased out of me the realisation that they were in a cellar. It was a scene she’d recreated of the main theme of my book, The Darkness – 5 guys chained to pillars in a cellar.

So why am I bothering to bore you with this? Well, when someone not only knows you so well that they can sum you up in a series of cake decorations but also takes that much trouble on your behalf, it almost suggests (if only briefly) that there may be some truths in life after all – no purpose, no structure, but joyous reminders to confirm that life is definitely worth living.


Jean Henry Mead said...

What a lovely tribute to your life, Bill.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Jean, but it's also definitely a way of keeping me grounded.

Shane Cashion said...

That's about the coolest cake I've ever seen.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Nice article, Bill. Cakes are a fun way to celebrate other people's lives, but sometimes they fall flat. I once made a cake for a cropduster I worked for. It was a replica of his airfield, complete with hangar, airplanes, and helicopter. I was so proud of it, but when I gave it to him, he growled, "You can't go around doing stuff like this!" This guy was an aviation pioneer and one of my heroes, but at that moment, I saw him as a bitter old soul. Glad your party turned out well.

Carola said...

What fun! Did you get to actually eat the cake?

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, Shane – my sister will be delighted to be thought cool (although she definitely is anyway).

A sad response to your imagination and your obvious admiration, Mark. Grumpiness never surprises me but it’s worse when it fails to recognize that some people do things for the best motives.

And yes Carola, cake, chocolate, ice cream – none of them stands a chance of surviving when I’m around.